Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Just an ugly, yellow, no-good keister.

I am SO Kevin McCallister this Christmas. Ugh.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

I really can't complain, since Chicago has been repeatedly shat upon by Jack Frost, but it snowed here in Tianjin late Saturday night. I was having drinks at a tiny, one-party-at-a-time bar in a hutong in Beijing, followed by a 4AM game of Risk, and the sky was perfectly clear there. But when I traveled back to TJ at 6AM, I discovered that the city essentially shuts down at the mere suggestion of snow, even if it is only 2-3cm high. Since there aren't any snow plows here, snow removal consists of clumps of 20 police officers and city workers using digging shovels (not the practical, wide-mouthed snow shovels we're so familiar with), brooms, and odd easel-looking snow-pushing contraptions to casually move snow from one square meter of space to another. It's been three days since the snowstorm (which dropped about 2 inches of snow on this fair city), and even the most heavily-traveled, 8-lane roads are still frosted with black snow that feels like creamed butter and sugar, forcing already-slow drivers to lurch at snailspeeds. Preposterous.

I busted my leg up amidst the snowy mayhem; as I lept over a fence separating the bike lane from the car lanes, I slipped got my foot caught in it, creating some really sexy scabs and bruises. Thanks for this delightful Christmas gift, China! I'll cherish it forever.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

A simple thought.

I would rather have freedom and crime than oppression and safety.

My Australian friend Jared (a US citizen, but a life-long resident of The Land Down Under) regularly talks about how afraid he is when he travels in America. He worries about our lax gun laws, the constant crime he reads about in international coverage of the US, about the man who was murdered in a fast-food restaurant near the house he was staying at when working for the Obama campaign this fall.

Perhaps I've lived a life sheltered from the realities of the United States. I've never lost a friend to the gunfire that plagues the south side of Chicago; I've never been robbed or gay-bashed or struck by a drunk driver.

But still. When I think of the sort of fear employed against Chinese citizens--the petty, Orwellian brand of Fear that calls for blocking the New York Times website, that gives neighbors the right to spy on each other, that keeps my students silent about the problems they have with their city government, that intoxicates police officers with the power to casually roam through a dry-cleaning business, that permits the guards of my apartment complex to skulk around our buildings and shine flashlights in our windows, I am compelled to trade every exposed political crook, every stray bullet, every out-of-work friend, every bigoted Prop 8 "yay" voter, every desperate pick-pocketer for this foolishness.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

2 of Clubs.

Things I value about Chinese clubs, which exist solely because Chinese people have nothing to say to each other and therefore need distractions when they're out and about:

1. Playboy "bunnies" (a.k.a. very sad, possibly trafficked girls who "dance" on the "dance floor")
2. Champagne flutes descending from the ceiling holding waifish Chinese female dancers
3. The black-and-white-striped, pleasantly overweight girl who danced by herself all night long
4. Skeleton-clad male dancers on a high platform, successfully bringing back the robot dance
5. The charming, typical 90s ghetto girl in a frilly pink Wonderbra, baggy cargo pants, and construction boots
6. A tall Chinese man singing the Backstreet Boys ubiquitous "Everybody" on a stage
7. A short, stout Chinese man singing "In Da Club" by...possibly, 50 Cent? on a stage. I'm not well-versed enough in pop-rap to know.
8. Chinese people. They're so CUTE!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Queenie's Lunch

I have lunch at school yesterday.
I book the lunch with Jess and we ate "(some random assortment of letters)."
I thing it's ditishes and it has all litter hot.
There has so many carrot in it.
Carrot is good for my health.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Happ(ier) Christmas

Apparently, my parents found my previous Sufjan Christmas song to be "too sad." This is infinitely cheerier.

Off to begin my month of teaching 4 classes, while training to be the new "head teacher" (which is beyond stupid, as I'll only be in that role for one month before returning to the US).

Its Christmas! Lets Be Glad! - Sufjan Stevens

Sunday, December 7, 2008


I have twins in one of my evening classes. Peter and Mark are identical in appearance and intellect; their only distinguishing characteristic (from the perspective of a teacher who only sees them thrice a week for an hour) is that Mark wears red-accented glasses and Peter wears white-accented glasses. Otherwise, they wear identical clothes (ubiquitous tracksuits that are standard-issue uniforms in all Chinese high schools), have identical hairstyles (a conservative Troll doll look), and speak for identical periods of time with identically-correct answers.

It's so odd to think of twins in the context of a post-One Child Policy China. I asked Peter (I think), "What is the biggest challenge of being a twin?" He promptly, perhaps tellingly, perhaps critically, replied, "Often, our teachers cannot tell us apart."

Thursday, December 4, 2008


It is so dusty here that people must brush off their cars in the morning (and, presumably, throughout the day) so that they can see through the dashboard. Combined with the Chicago-style wind and desert-like dryness, it will be an odd winter.

Fortunately, my ears have been reunited with the brilliance that is the Sufjan Stevens Christmas album set.

Sister Winter - Sufjan Stevens

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

I Heart ESL.

When I was described once, insultingly, as an ESL speaker, I don't think the blow-deliverer had people like my students in mind. For example, I have a cold right now (well, it's either a cold, or a sinus infection, or bodily reaction to the extreme dryness one experiences in Tianjin). Although usually my students react to my coughing fits in class with silent disgust, I just got an E-mail from a student wishing me the best of luck in "staying away from diseases." I have a disease! How cute.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

I'm thankful for...

As anxious and churn-y as it makes me each year, I realized that I really do miss the "let's interrupt this elongated prayer by having everyone around the table announce, in a cleverly opaque and general way, what they're thankful for this Thanksgiving" tradition. Also, the family and food and the night-before-Thanksgiving tension that runs through my parents' house like static electricity.

People--even when I don't want to be around them.
I had this grand idea when I decided to move here that, to spare myself the awkwardness of spending the winter holidays with people I didn't really know or care for, I would spend them alone (hopefully while traveling). Instead, I went for a western-ish food at this strange HK bistro with Jared and Dallas. It was quite tasty; I had snake (meh), salad, a Cajun-seasoned chicken breast, and a piece of walnut pie from Paris Baguette (an out-of-this-world Korean bakery that's sprouting up all over China). I was glad to spend it with them and not by myself; as much of a self-pitying masochist as I can be sometimes, it's nice to...well, not be that.

One of my former students died this week. He was 19, and suffered a heart attack. His girlfriend is one of my E-mail correspondents, and I had the grave misfortune of standing next to her as she received the news via telephone. If you've never witnessed someone receive such news, let me tell you: it's chilling.

When I think of my aunt's stint as an ex-pat in France many years ago, I often wonder how she managed to survive on her own with only postal mail and the (very) occasional, expensive phone call. My experience has lacked the emotional sacrifices I was looking forward to since I'm so connected to the shadow of my old life thanks to the Internet, but I'll gladly waive that personal growth.

Time, and the non-existence of time.
I'm glad that I took this opportunity when I did. I'm glad I'm 24, and that the stars aligned and that I left for Anywhere at just the right time. I'm also glad, conversely, that no matter how old I am or what year it is or what day of the week it is, it is always the right time to do something important for yourself.

I just opened a Christian E-card wishing me a Happy Thanksgiving from one of my Chinese students. What next... (Also, Christianity is seen as a networking ploy by most of the Chinese "Christians" I've run into over the months. They assume that "all" westerners are Christian, and feel like it's a club they should join to better acclimate themselves to their surroundings. Ugh.)

Yes, you.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


So, Foucault talks about the base and the superstructure: the base being the real reason an action is perpetrated, and the superstructure being the advertised rationale (have I discussed this here before?). When the US engaged in war with Iraq, for example, the superstructures of "freedom" and "democracy" and "defense" were waved on blood-soaked banners, held proudly by gray suit-clad CEOs of Exxon and BP.

During dinner with Dallas, I learned that two older teachers at my school, a married couple from Canada, were holding "bible studies" in their apartment for students at our school on Saturday nights. I knew this couple was of the evangelical persuasion and that they were a wee bit...eager about it, but this was shocking news to me.

I'm not angry about the subject matter they're celebrating at these meetings, per se. Had they been reveling in Wiccan, Republican, or anarchist shindigs, I would still be upset at their abuse of power. How could these people take advantage of their positions in such a calculated, back-handed way? "Oh, here, come to our house to practice English. It's King James English, but English nonetheless."

Not only does the Chinese government forbid proselytizing, but its people are more than 70% atheists. In this post-mission world we live in, nearly everyone has access to some sort of organized religion, and the means to explore others IF THEY WANT TO. There are several churches of several denominations in Tianjin; everybody knows about them. How dare you convert your students' eagerness to improve their English into something obscene like this?

I am really churn-y right now.

Friday, November 14, 2008


UN Report Sees New Pollution Threat

IN other news, I forgot how draining teaching can be. It's also draining being so gosh-darned popular. Teaching a class of 60 when you only planned on teaching a class of 20-25? Yeah, it's kind of hard.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

A retrospective.

The last month of my life has filled me with dream-like memories from which I refuse to wake up. Theo mentioned, as he said goodbye to me before he went to work, that he hoped I was able to do 65% of the things I wished to do while I was home. I'd say that I exceeded that percentage by quite a bit. Concerts, dinners, drinks, parties, walks along the lake, drives with the top down and my spirits up--if I had any doubts about where my heart called Home, they are but a distant memory, like the smoke trail behind an airplane.

I couldn't have chosen a more ideal denouement to this novella than watching Barack Obama become our next president from Grant Park. Although I haven't always been the most ardent supporter of (H)is campaign, it fills me with a patriotic pride I've never known before. Is it homesickness or home-wellness that makes my eyes well up with tears each time I read a new biographical sketch of this man or watch as yet another eloquent personality describes her new-found hope for our country? Of all the post-election interviews, my favorite is by far the CBS interview with Dr. Maya Angelou. Amidst the happiness, I wrestle with reality as Proposition 8 and its fellow-initiatives sow discrimination into the soil of our country's fields. Nevertheless, I hope that one day I will be able to look back at my own subculture's struggles and proudly declare, "Still we rise."

Still I Rise
Maya Angelou

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin' in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

A return to serfdom.

Amidst the various stresses of returning to China, I am currently dealing with some changes that were made to Skype in my absence. Apparently, the Chinese government wishes to be able to spy on all Skype users through modifications made to the Chinese version of Skype. As I have the American version, I am no longer able to connect to Skype using my more secure version. I am now downloading--at molasses-slow rates--the new version.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


I love both of my lives right now--the one I left behind (temporarily!) in China, and the one I'm playing with now, here in Chicago.

Aside from whatever strain of the plague I've acquired since I've been here (my prediction: too little sleep + psychosomatic reaction to having no health insurance = Disaster Flu), I've really enjoyed my time at home. It's so wonderful seeing everyone and everything. Although I'm eagerly awaiting returning to China, this break is such a splendid gift.

I have to go die for awhile. Be back soon.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Once I really listened the noise just fell away

It's nice to know that the smoky, crisp, clean scent of autumn is a universal phenomenon.

Outward displays of fear, anxiety, and anger provide users with one-month paid vacations to Chicago. Listen and learn, kids.

I'm quite excited, and yet, at the same time, I'm already dreaming about coming back to China. Every day I think of another great place in Tianjin that I need to explore, like a brand-new, dark cafe near my house, or the antiques (rather, "antiques") market, or the many temples (including one near my house).

Get ready, because October is going to involve you with me and many containers of fun.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

I wouldn't write about it if it wasn't keeping me awake.

My neighbors make the most unpleasant noises during sex. The man generally speaks in a very squeaky voice day and night (almost Disney character-esque), the sharpness of which increases during intercourse. The woman sort of mews like a cat whose paw is caught in a mouse-trap. It really sounds weepy and concern-worthy.

Doesn't it feel weird to think about Chinese people enjoying sex?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Visa: It's everywhere you want to be.

Hey, remember when I was going to have to return to the US in August to renew my visa, but then miracles happened and I was allowed to stay here for another two months?

Well, it's two months later. And this time, I won't be so lucky (or I'll be very lucky, as the case may be). As rules have changed in the magical bureaucratic world of visa distribution, I will have to return to Chicago for a few weeks to process a shiny new work visa.

There is no downside to this; I get an all-expenses paid trip to my favorite place on earth, I get a raise (!) and continued salary from my job while I'm in Chicago, and I get a vacation away from this awkward little home of mine.

So. Rock. The other upside to this is that I'll be away from school for 1.5 weeks immediately before this, traveling around China with my parents (itinerary pending), so I'll basically get a month-long paid vacation from my spoiled little miscreant students.

My only worry is this: how will I be able to return to China after enjoying a few weeks in Chicago? The first time I left, I was traveling towards a horizon of mystery and excitement and new experiences. This time, I'll be traveling so something I already know. It's only another 6 months, though; I don't think I'll suffer too much. After all, the first six (well, 6 by the time I leave for Chicago) have raced by like a Chinese high-speed train. Or spicy food through my digestive system. Zing!

And on that note: ta. See you on the other side, also known as the good side.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Happy September 11!

So, you know how people in the US are kind of racist? Well, people in China are kind of racist too. Except, well, they don't mind telling stories about racial profiling in class.

I have this really awesome student who I've taught a few times (and let sneak into classes he wasn't registered for), and we were talking about crime, and I asked if anyone had ever witnessed a crime. Well, Karl witnessed a "crime" a few days ago: he saw a Uighur man "offer someone a cell phone" on the street and called the police because "the cell phone was stolen." he only knows this because the man was from Xinjiang, which means the predominantly Muslim part of China. See, it's kind of like when white people started hating brown-looking people who may have been Muslim after "jiu yo yo."

Chinese people: they're just like us!

Otherwise...yeah, I have too much to do before my parents come. Like, making their visas happen and making their trip happen and also go to Hong Kong for a few stressful days to get a new tempo-visa for myself? My life is a series of Ikea instructions.

Teacher's Day! I got lots of well wishes and mooncakes.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Another one bites the dust.

My relaxing weekend ended on an unpleasant note, after I left the supermarket to find that my second bike had been stolen. Can you imagine? Have I not contributed enough to the Chinese economy?

It's a good thing I had it this past week, though, as I had to make hour-long bike treks to the horse-pittle every day to have toxic things injected into my delicate body--a "remedy" I'm fairly certain was all for naught.

Otherwise, this last week marked what I hope will be the last rough month at school. Though I'll be glad for the overtime, I don't think teaching 8 hours a day is something I'll miss.

I traveled to Da Hutong this afternoon, which is the largest distribution center of crap in northern China. If you don't need it or want it, you can easily find it in this square-kilometer quilt of three-story football field-sized showrooms, sewn together by alleyways of stands selling everything from underwear to office supplies. It's quite a sight. You'd think, however, that being China, the fabric markets would be teeming with deals and delightful fabrics. Not so, not so.

I've thus given up on decorating my apartment. The money could be better spent on travel (my end-of-contract trip to India will be far more expensive than I anticipated, it seems) or clothes (fall is around the corner) or food (of which I've eaten far too much these days). I'm only going to live here for another 7 months, and I should probably enjoy the quirky Chinese-ness of my apartment. From the over-sized brown sofas to the hideously scarred walls, it is a part of the experience.

Bu hao.

Monday, September 1, 2008


I had a delightful weekend, all things considered. The "all things" being that I had some surgery on Friday morning and left for Shanghai Friday evening. I still managed to enjoy myself, amidst a few types of awkwardness.

My favorite moment of the weekend occurred at around 7AM on Sunday morning, when I was awoken by a middle-aged woman screaming at the top of her pollution-ravaged lungs. She had, for reasons unknown, decided to scale the side of a building and hang from electrical wires, so that she could reach into her victim's window and throw things from inside of this man's house at him while assaulting him with her staccato soprano melodies. He tried to shut the window on her, pinching fingers and body, without success. I'm not sure what happened in the end, because I was laughing too hard to continue watching. Just another Sunday morning for some, but a freakishly merry sight for others.

Please, please--if you need any sort of surgery (from a lobotomy to the removal of a splinter from your index finger), leave the Asian continent. Srsly.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

From Starbucks.

I forget that being a teacher is more than just educating people in a classroom (as if that weren't enough). Although I never used my teachers for this purpose, another whole facet of being an ejimicator is supporting a student's personal life.

Kevin, a former student of mine, needed such help today. I asked him how he was while we were exiting school this afternoon, and he answered honestly: not well. He studies constantly like most students, saving little time for relaxation. He tearfully told me about how he always feels stressed about getting a high enough score on the IELTS exam to move to Australia. He thinks there are no career opportunities for him in china because he doesn't have a college degree.

While I think he's a great student and will certainly emigrate soon, I have to wonder if he, like so many other students, is overestimating the amount of available opportunities abroad. These students think that life "in the West" is somehow so much more wonderful than in China.

Just like, as I discussed with my students in another class, the Chinese government hoped to only display positive traits of Chinese culture at the Olympics, going so far as to modify its citizen's behaviors, many impending emigrants choose to only focus on the Land of Opportunities, skipping chapters in their travel guides about the Valley of Poverty, the River of Crime, the Desert of Inaccessible Transportation, and Mount Racism.

I worry about the naïveté most of my students suffer from. What will they do when their expectations fall so dangerously short of reality?

* * * * * *

In other news, I just saw a woman on an electric scooter. This is not noteworthy, of course, except that her 50 pound golden retriever was perched (this really is the best word for it) on the foot rest, as she weaved through traffic.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The hardest, heaviest part of me.

I love letters, and have received some great ones recently. I wouldn't mind a few more, and I'm great at providing quick, junk-filled responses.

I am suddenly looking forward to falling in love when I return to Chicago. It's pretty fucking impossible to do so here. Eat cheese, sleep with Yuki, dance at Berlin, fall in love: this is my spring manifesto.

(On my hour-long bike ride around Tianjin after work, I saw a large dog that was doing the do-si-do poop dance, and I suddenly needed desperately to see a large dog take a large shit, to remind me of Yuki. But I kept riding because, well, I'm not quite that crazy.)

I'm off to Shanghai this weekend. I deserve a pleasant disruption to the unruly rigmarole of my daily life. I'll be touring a little canal town an hour outside of the city, which should be perfect. Among other perfect things.

My baby sis moves to Morocco in one week. You'd think our parents put out their cigarettes on our arms, judging from the distance we've put between ourselves and them. I am jealous to the second power of her impending adventures.

I'm so glad trains from Beijing to Tianjin now start running at 6:15am. I get to stay out until all hours of the night with my little friends and be back in my concrete-soft bed by 7:30.

And how would you distinguish between sour and acidic foods? Exactly. Thank you.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The ambassador.

I am not an ambassador.

Nevertheless, being one of, what, 50 non-Chinese people in Tianjin, I somehow have the unimaginable responsibility of representing my country.

Can we talk about this idea for a moment? Perhaps I've just been lapping at the teat of liberally-biased higher education for too long, but I thought that one couldn't/shouldn't make broad assumptions about a nation of 300 million widely varied human beings based on the actions of a single person. After all, if I see a person hold his slit-pantsed child over a garbage can while said child defecates into said garbage can, my first thought isn't, "All Chinese people shit in public." It's, "how does the parent know that the child has to shit? If there is some sort of warning system, why doesn't the parent simply take the child to the public toilet down the street?"

In my angelic Level 9 class today, we talked about the Kyoto Protocol. (I know: my job is awesome.) While we were talking about ways China was reducing its greenhouse gas emissions, I momentarily leaned up against the white board and balanced myself by resting my right foot against the wall for, perhaps, 30 seconds, until someone's comment filled me with the strength to turn around and write their brilliance on the board.

After class, a student whom I greatly respect (his English is terrible but he works incredibly hard) stopped me, as is his usual shtick. Today, however, he had no vocab questions or sentences to test out on me. He wanted to give me a suggestion.

"Brian? I want to give you a suggestion. Don't put your feet on the walls."

(Note: I had to really think what this meant, because I couldn't recall walking on the walls at any point in the last 24 years.)

He blathered on about "people in China" doing horrible, terrible things, but that I am "a representative of my country," and he didn't want people getting the wrong idea about the US.

I then responded that, though I am sorry for putting my foot on the wall because it may have lowered my students' opinion of me (not the US, but me) by a fraction of a hairswidth, I resent his implication that I am somehow required to act as a living embodiment of the USA.

Furthermore...give me a break. Other teachers answer their cell phones in class; will me resting my foot against the filthy wall for half a minute really invalidate my status as an upstanding citizen of the world?

So, sod off.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

On phantom facial hair.

I learned today that sometimes, the students who are in heart with me do not refer to me by name, for fear that someone will hear them and know who they are talking about. Instead, they will rub their imaginary soul patches. As in, "do you know this teacher (rub non-existent soul patch)?" How odd. Well, whatever keeps me from losing my job.

How do real teachers teach more than 30 hours a week? I am dying.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Weekend Update

Another weekend has passed, this one filled with equal parts stress and relaxation. Friday, I had dinner with some of my favorite former students, which was quite lovely. We had an eggplant dish that arrived in an old-skool chafing dish; it was oily and well-seasoned and perfect.

Saturday, I got a late start to the day; I'm working 28 hours a week this month and I'm just not capable of handling that somehow, which translates into a late alarm clock on Saturdays. I arrived at the train station to find that only one train was not sold out for the entire evening, and it was a 2.5 hour, old, standing-room-only death trap that didn't leave until the time I needed to be in Beijing. So, I banded together with some American architects, and we decided to split a cab from Tianjin to Beijing (roughly equivalent to a cab from Elgin to Chicago).

Everything was fine--we paid more than we wanted to--until we got into the Tianjin expressway. Our driver starts communicating with other drivers through his window, and we hear "Beijing" over and over again. The architects start getting worried.

We arrive at the toll plaza about 10km outside of Tianjin and our driver pulls over to the side of the road. Apparently, he was trying to "sell" us to someone who was planning on driving into Beijing. Um...what? The girls flip out, scream, etc., while I silently take in the fact that we're being SOLD to a stranger on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere.

At least we got the consortium of drivers to lower the price.

I made it for all but one of the beach volleyball sets last night; it was far less decorous than one would expect an Olympic event to be. R&B music blared throughout; there were cheerleaders involved (what?); people did the wave. Basically, every reason I don't care for sports was present that evening. I still had a great time, though.

After sleeping for two hours on a very uncomfortable couch, I went to the Olympic Green gate to try to buy tickets for the Michael Phelps swimming event. Oddly, no one was really selling tickets at all this morning; aside from a few hand ball and shooting tickets, the demand was infinitely higher than the supply.

A disgusting American woman (with two small, impressionable children in tow) complained for about 30 minutes to her young Chinese guide about how this is the worst Olympics ever, and how China/the Chinese have ruined it, etc. I felt awful for the guide for a variety of reasons (mostly that she was in real danger of being harassed by a fellow Chinese person for speaking about--nay, being an audience to--such things).

I caught the final stretch of the women's marathon, which was exciting. If I hadn't moved to China this year, I would have participated in the Chicago marathon, so it was nice to watch these athletes pounding the pavement.

I'm really quite lucky. I cannot ever forget this fact. I've been blessed in so many ways. I'm so glad I cam to China; I'm so glad I've made 85% of the decisions I've made; I'm so glad to be alive, and alive in this very life, no less.

Remind me of this passage after my next "I hate the world and my role in it" post, please?

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Big O.

I have mostly amazing and wonderful things to say about my Olympic weekend. In the months leading up to 8/8/8, I had some concerns about the state of Beijing--it seemed like things would never come together. Everything seems to be going quite smoothly, though. The Olympic Greens are immaculate and Disney-esque; the volunteers are (at times overwhelmingly) helpful; people seem happy to be in China.

I just keep thinking about nationalism and patriotism and "is this good for China?" and "what kind of soft power will they acquire if this goes well?" and "I'm nauseated by the super-China messages sponsors are plastering across their faces." But.

Men's Gymnastics was, obviously, awesome. It's a bit over-stimulating though, because 6 teams are all competing at once, and your eyes are daring from floor routine to pommel horse to vault to parallel bars and back again. The Chinese team was quite phenomenal in all events, though I think Japan might edge them out in several gymnastic events. It was so great having the stadium filled with actual Chinese people; most of my students (save two) aren't planning on traveling to Beijing at all during the next two weeks, to my horror.

Fencing was quite a surprise, in terms of its excitement and drama. The athletes really displayed unique personalities and emotions through their craft (I know...trite trite trite); the "drama" was not that of typical athletic suspense but more of a "these people are a bit high-strung and finicky" way.

I may have been on the Today Show?

I had a great time and will be returning again next weekend, to see swimming on Saturday night I think? So. Rock. Photos are up, by the way.

Due to some unfortunate recent events, I now feel even more alone in Asia. I used to share this experience with one of my closest friends, but as events out of her control have forced her to return home early, I am not shouldering this burden by myself, I feel. Burden might not be the right word--rather, I used to share this experience with someone very close to me, and now I'm doing it all by my lonesome. So, that'll be a bit awkward. (Selfish me.)

Friday, August 8, 2008

Teh kidz aren't alright.

I hate my students today. All of them.

First: why would you waste your parents' money taking really expensive English classes if you aren't going to try to fucking learn anything? You are in your twenties; do you know how long I had worked before I was your age, you shit brained twits? Seriously. Go be an adult now and let the people who want to learn, learn.

Second: Seriously? You have no interest in thinking about terrorism, except in an simplistic, "the government tells me not to go to Beijing during the Olympics because of terrorism" sort of way? You have no original ideas of your own, and you call yourself a citizen of the world? I am presenting you a forum for discussing a real, world issue, but you would rather watch rom-coms and talk about love and other shit that doesn't really matter? Are you fucking dead inside?

Plus, I have had to turn down another marriage proposal today, except this one from a fellow teacher (who I genuinely like as a person; she's my second-favorite of all the Chinese staff).


No, no--wait. Awkward was when she told my boss she and I were dating, and I had to tell my boss, "you idiot, I'm a big fucking fag" when he didn't believe me that we weren't.

China, you wasteful, horny cur! Behave!

Olympics this weekend. Oh, the terrorism! However will I survive?!?

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Consumption is the new Mao.

So, I bought a bike on Monday for 400RMB, an awesome sewing machine on Tuesday for 800RMB, and a brilliant haircut tonight for 20RMB. I love China sometimes.

Well, until the bike's stolen (I have to carry it up a flight of stairs, at the stern request of my apartment complex guard), the sewing machine breaks, and my haircut grows out into some Frank Gehry-looking menagerie.

I'm traveling to Beijing this weekend; I scored some cheap tickets to see men's gymnastics on Saturday and fencing on Sunday. Various forms of recklessness and frivolity will ensue between events.

Pictures might be up now, unless I go to bed (I should really go to bed).

Sunday, August 3, 2008

A nice feeling:

To sit in front of one's computer and feel odd, like one has never used such a contraption before.

I've just returned from a retreat with my fellow teachers, and then trips to Hangzhou and Shanghai. All of the above was quite delightful. I'll post more later, including photos hopefully. For now, however, I must sleep.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Wode che zai nar?

I wish I knew.

Remember two weeks ago, when amidst the other panic-inducing factors of my life, I thought my bicycle was stolen, and it turned out to have simply been "hidden" by a staff member at my school "for my own good?"

This time, it's really gone. I left it, locked, outside of my building with 100 other bicycles on Sunday evening, only to discover Monday morning that it had been snatched away in the night like a sixteen-year-old's virtue.

But, I have too many other things to think about at the moment, like my trip to Shanghai/Hangzhou next week, and the nightmarish "retreat" I have to attend this weekend with my fellow-educators, and lessons for students with whom I share a mutual hatred.

Monday, July 21, 2008

One year ago.

One year ago, I was watching The New Pornographers on stage at the Pitchfork Music Festival. It was a rough day, despite the wonderful music that was happening in my ears. I was operating on very little sleep; I had a terrible illness that later caused me to lose my voice for a few days; I was in a romantic situation that was less-than-stellar.

I short, I felt unhappy.

I decided that day--that moment--that I needed to make some changes.

Big changes.

Some of those changes actually happened; some of them even lasted into the present day. Although I had passively considered moving abroad since early last year, I don't think this current trajectory was something I pondered that day. Nevertheless, I'm glad I did this whole "moving to China" thing.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

ZO. M. G.

I love my family:

I loved my weekend almost as much. Another fun party; a great meal with spicy lamb bits; I was "photographed" for two different "magazines" while walking around a superior part of Beijing; danced until dawn; bought a weird T-shirt. Good times.

I AM EATING HOMEMADE OATMEAL RAISIN COOKIES RIGHT NOW and they are telling me that this weekend should never end.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Thursday, July 17, 2008


A conversation with a student today:

"Your hair...(giggle) is so...(waves hands frantically in the air)...what is it?"
It's curly.
"Yes, curly. Is it real?"
Yes, it's real. Is Vicky's real?
"(giggle) (Vicky's English isn't good enough to know that we're making fun of her perm, so she just stares.)"
"Your beautiful. It is like sunlight."

And then another conversation with a student a mere two minutes later:

"What is this? (Points to her eye)"
It's an eye (stupid).
"No, this (runs her finger along the outline of her eyelid)."
Oh, those are called eyelashes (I write on the board and draw an eye with eyelashes, for anyone else who cares to see). Eyelashes are countable but we usually talk about them all together.
"Your eyelashes...are so long and beautiful."
Um...thank you. (Giggle) They've grown very long in China, to keep the dust out of my eyes.
"(An "I don't understand" giggle.)"

I have a visa for three more months, thanks to the miracle of having a school owner who's very well connected. Praise the heavens (?).

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A note to those who live in the US:

How have you been bludgeoned to near-death by Bravo's marketing for PR5 Project Runway 5, and yet failed to inform me of the start of this new season? I officially hate you all.

Classes are not as pleasant this term as they have been in the past. I have, basically, several shitty little shits in each of my classes. Discipline is a skill I haven't even begun to master.

Otherwise, things are pretty fine, I'd say.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008



(This would be slightly more charming if it wasn't being created in class.)


(I think Fighting is one of the authoress' names? One day I'll make a list of my favorite names.)


Item 1: I saw stars for the first time in three months on Saturday evening, while drinking Qingdao on the terrace of a moderately lovely bar overlooking Houhai Lake.

Item 2: The Chinese government has programmed rain to occur on several late evenings these past few weeks. It's been quite nice, falling asleep to the sound of rain pitter-pattering against my porch roof.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

< del >

I could write extensively about the Worst Week of My Life, also known as last week, but I'm going to jump-start the repression process by not discussing it here. Imagine, if you will, every terrible thing possible (short of bodily inj--well, short of fatal bodily injury to yourself or loved ones) happening in one week.

Instead, read this:

In Changing Face of Beijing, a Look at the New China

Sunday, July 6, 2008


No, no, not the commodified Marxist leader (I wonder how Chinese people conceptualize him...project!)--that's Mandarin for bicycle.

After the dreadful discovery of my broken Touch, I needed something to perk me up. I was already planning on buying a bike, and traveled to several rumored "used bike" spots (where one can purchase a stolen bike for practically nothing), with no luck (one was actually swarmed with police cars--a sign of China's attempt to "clean up" in preparation for its greatest two weeks ever). So, I took a trip out (and I mean out--it was a 25RMB cab trip) to the large bicycle market on the outskirts of town. There were hundreds of bikes, both electric and traditional, for every type of man, woman, and child.

I settled upon the below bike, as it was a traditional men's structure (most men ride what we would label women's bikes), pretty, light, automatically-geared (it changes based on how fast I'm going; is this normal?) and reasonably priced (with a basket, lock, and tune-up, it came to less than $60).

Pigeon! Hello friend!

I then spent all day riding it, and have a sore bum to prove it. I discovered so many places that deserve more examination. I ate at a Vietnamese restaurant, bought a really cheap MP3 player to get me through until I figure out how to proceed on that front, and had a delightful day overall.

Also, I happened upon this:

I cannot figure out how I made it through the last three months--nay, the last 6 years--without knowing how amazing the bicycle is as a form of transportation. It's a wind-in-your-greasy-hair feeling that a convertible car can only mimic. I will never live without a bicycle again.

Well, until it gets stolen.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Rest in peace, dear friend. (Or come back from the dead, please?)

I really don't mean to complain, nor do I create situations in which problems cling to me like a freshly-tumble-dried sock to the inside of a pant leg. I should count myself lucky to have the experience of experiencing, managing, and solving slightly unusual problems in another country.

A back story, if you don't mind:

I've never been one for personal music players. I dislike being disconnected from my surroundings, and never felt the need to listen to music at all times. I rejected iPods for years on thee (and other) grounds, until finally, this past Christmas, Theo gave me a Nano. I kept it in its package for almost two months, until finally I decided to exchange it for an iPod Touch, since the Touch is the best of almost every world: portable internet, portable video, portable music, portable Chinese-English dictionary, et cetera.

The Touch has become my closest ally in a world of loud cars, louder talkers, and even louder phlegm-flingers. I listen to it constantly--on my way to work, while waiting for lunch, while preparing lessons at Starbucks, while running.

I went for such a run on Friday evening. Although it rained for approximately 7 minutes earlier that evening, the temperature was still well above 90 degrees. As I am wont to do, I produced a good amount of sweat, enough to (as is my hypothesis) allow some hand-sweat to drip into the headphone jack of my iPod Touch. Suddenly, as I was rounding the final stretch, whatever awful running song (I think it was a Crystal Castles tune) I was pounding the pavement to cut out. According to the screen, it was still playing, but my ears suggested otherwise.

When I got home, there was still no sound coming from the machine. Everything else functioned as normal.

I took it to several unlicensed and one licensed Apple repair centers in Tianjin today. The licensed repair center representative told me:

a. There is a chemical at the bottom of the headphone well that turns red when moisture makes contact with it, and it was, indeed, red.

b. To repair the Touch, they need to basically replace the entire strand of metal intestines inside, as there are not generally individual parts to use in repairs.

c. "Sorry! (Awkward laughter)"

So now, in addition to purchasing a bike and a trip to Shanghai this month, I also need to figure out how to replace my best friend, Touchy Touch McTouchesalot.

Thursday, July 3, 2008


So, I went to the hospital today. No, no, I'm fine; I just needed to have something looked at (and received some Chinese medicine that will pretend to solve the problem until I grow tired of worrying about the ailment). It wasn't as "crazy" and "backwards" as I suspected. The exam itself lasted exactly 1/64 of my total time there (the other 63/64 being comprised of wandering hallways, floors, buildings, waiting, being ushered places, and feeling awkward). But! I have another adventure under my belt.

My schedule this month will be dreadful--I'll be teaching from 9:30AM-4:30PM, with an hour lunch break in there somewhere. Plus, I'll be teaching three of the same, middle-level class, which means I'll be having three times less fun than I do now. I'll manage, though I'll desperately miss my wonderful children in the upper levels. One of my students is moving to Australia in three days! I'm quite proud of her.

It's really warm here; in a few days China enters the "very warm" period of time (it's a real thing I'll go into detail about at a later date). The air is thick with moisture and pollution, and yet running is still a possibility.

Yes--I think that's all.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Only good things to-day.

1. I had a great run on Friday, and then watched No Country For Old Men, which I liked a little more this time around.

2. Although I was running late Saturday morning and missed the good train (meaning I had to kill 2 hours at Carrefour and a delicious Japanese restaurant where I ate delicious thin-sliced salty beef covered in onions and a goopy, runny, uncooked egg), I made it into Beijing unscathed, and read the most delicious un-letter I have ever received (yes, letters can really reach me, so send them often).

3. I went to the Confucious Temple after registering at my hostel. It was lovely, most notably for the overwhelming presence of trees: the road that leads to the road that leads to the temple is populated by hundreds of incense and temple-worthy brass knick-knacks. The road that leads to the temple is shaded by a canopy of trees wrestling with one another (and, in some trunks' cases, themselves). The temple area itself is filled with old firs of many shapes and sizes. Even if I've seen this building structure tens of times before, they never cease to amaze me. I'm not even "into" the "Oriental" "aesthetic," but I'm still amazed by the architecture, the detailing, the magnificence of it all every time I visit such a site.

4. In the week leading up to Pride weekend (why did I capitalize that?), I've been feeling rather sad, since I've moved from a place where I couldn't swing a feather boa without hitting a fag (and, moreover, a place where I was a member of the majority) to a place where being queer is treated like anything but a normal way of life (and where I'm in the minority in so many ways). Forget China--even my teachers, all of whom have thick, woody Christian roots, dance around the topic (I had a pronoun-less conversation about my relationship with Theo this week. Exhausting.). Although being queer isn't something to be "proud" of, per se, it's nice to have a day in which we get to celebrate being recognized as humans who deserve the same modicum of respect and care as everyone else.

That said:

I was invited to a party that evening by my friend Eric, hosted by an elder-gay who owns a glass factory a few hours outside of Beijing (and subsequently, a massive apartment with a great outdoor patio). I had a "fabulous" time, meeting many Beijingers from Paris, Poland, Pennsylvania and beyond (and, of course, China). I even met two separate guys from Chicago, one of with whom Facebook tells me I have four "mutual friends." It was really, really, really nice to slip back into my outgoing, first-meeting-with-like-minded-people suit. I'm just glad it still fits.

5. I visited Mao's "body" this morning. After checking my bag in a separate building, waiting in line for a security check, and then in 2 other lines (one of which passed by a booth for people to buy flowers for Maoers), I finally walked briskly by China's answer to Jesus. In a small room (inside of his massive mausoleum), behind two layers of glass and a red blanket covering everything but his face lies a yellow (literally, not racist-ly) shell of what once was an incredibly powerful man. I'm fairly certain it isn't his real body, either--how could they have preserved it for this long?

6. I took a trip to Ikea to pick up a few housewares I haven't been able to find in Tianjin afterwards. Prices in China's Ikeas are apparently quite good. I bought a lamp for $2, and many other seemingly-pricey things for under $70. It's odd, because although you're thinking, "well, of COURSE everything's cheaper; there's a shorter distance between the factories and stores for these goods," most of the things I picked up were made in Eastern Europe.

7. I met up with Terna for a last farewell. One of her friends from Manchester (HINT HINT) is visiting her (HINT HINT), and the three of us went to the "silk market," which was all kinds of disastrous. Imagine: booths upon booths of women yelling "buy a purse," "I remember you," "pretty jewelry for girlfriend?" and so on. After awhile, the inherent value of these goods is tarnished by their sheer over-abundance (the market is something like 7 floors high). Terna did well, though, scoring quite a few goods for about as much as I spent on housewares.

8. As I missed the 5:17 train back to Tianjin, I decided once again to pay an extra 20RMB and take a private van back, instead of waiting for another 2+ hours for the next one. It was another hair-raising experience, with several near-misses (I, of course, was "sitting bitch" between the driver and a woman who was visibly afraid of me touching her) and no seat belts in sight. On the highway headed towards Beijing, 95% of the vehicles were enormous trucks hauling things into the city--dirt, concrete, wood, other trucks (one had a stack of 1 dozen mini-trucks as its load). I'm still highly dubious about everything being completed and shiny for the big day(s).

9. I practiced Chinese so much this weekend! I'm starting to think I'll get the hang of this crizz-azy language after all. I bargained over a street vendor for cigarettes (for a friend! of course!) successfully and animatedly; I no longer need to really think when someone tells me the price of something; I even had an 8-sentence conversation with my greengrocer-woman (who taught me the word for "banana," although now I cannot remember it). Even a few characters are getting thrown into the mix--I can recognize about 15 now? 20?

10. This will not be a week filled with good things, I know. But, at least I can reflect upon the weekend I've had as an advance consolation prize.

11. (Pictures.)

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Yeah, so shut up.

Complain about how terrible the Chinese government all you want, but at least here, firearms of all sorts are illegal. Silly America.

Did I tell you? One of my students gave me a haircut! It looks alright, although he took "leave it a little longer in the back" too literally, so I have sort of a strange thing going on with my hair right now. But still! Fun!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Everything was going well until...

...I found out I have a motherfucking jesus christ what the fuck meeting with the PSB tomorrow morning, which is the governing body of all foreigners in China. So, I'm now once again thinking I'm getting kicked out. And just when I was beginning to get comfortable all over again. This is so fucked.

Like, my boss said, "they're going to take you into a dark room with no windows and ask you a lot of questions." WHAT?

If I weren't so drunk from the stupid, pathetic foreigner's bar, this would probably be worrying me much more than it actually is.

But srsly, jesus christ.

The thunderstorm will lull me to sleep.

UPDATE: No interview. Just a photo. I don't know why my boss would worry me like this. Does it make any sense? No.

Going away party for Terna last night. Another party on Saturday. Some sights, some shopping, some sanity before my enormously busy week next week.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Best Freudian slip ever.

(from Gchat:)

Lujan: how are your chinese lesions coming?

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The first (of many).

I should also mention: I experienced my first "I'm almost calling you out for being a fag, but you're still my teacher so I won't get too specific about how I/we think you're a fag."

I was teaching about job interviews, and one of my less-than-stellar students (I take his cell phone away at least 3 times a week) said, "In China, you can't get a job if you're gay." Cue laughter and Chinese from his corner of also-dumb students (students who cannot answer simple questions like "what is good about being a teacher?").

I played it quite coolly, asking the class if this was true and writing on the board under "Job Interview Questions," "Are you gay?" This at least made the students laugh, and then I explained that job interviews usually focus on one's professional life, not their personal life, and anyways in the West we don't discriminate against people based on their sexuality or gender or color or age so shut the fuck up you crooked-toothed, orange-haired twat.

I'll surely have to deal with more of this in the future, but at least the first time is over with. I didn't even get red or anything. I'm quite proud of myself.

Oh, and I taught the phrases "It is what it is" and "shitstorm" to my upper level class, in celebration of the newly-dubbed Idiom Fridays (a carrot to get them to come to class on Fridays that has worked quite well thus far).

Roughing it.

As I was taking a shower last night, after a particularly humid run, the power went out. Sure, I was running my A/C while having a few lights on, but I didn't think I could have overloaded the fuse (is that even the proper terminology? See, this is how often things like this happen to me). I then realized that, perhaps I had run out of electricity.

"Run out of electricity," you say? "What, like one goes to a supermarket or a poorly-lit alley and buys a sack of electricity?"

No, no. Instead, in this magical land, one puts money onto a "power stick," which looks like a jump drive, and then plugs it into a power box in one's apartment to "recharge" the electricity meter. One goes to a special bank to do this. Photos to follow.

After discussing with my boss this possibility (after trying all other logical options), we decided this was probably the case. Of course, nothing could be done about it at 7:00PM on a Friday night, so I spent the evening in darkness (and at Starbucks, where I am currently for reasons which will become known below).

This morning, I picked up a new stick for my electricity box from school. But, of course, each box has its own stick, and this mysterious stick I was given belonged to someone else's box. So, that was a wasted trip for me and, later, the repair person from my school. Finally, magically, my landlady came over and gave me the real stick (after I wrote out a makeshift contract expressing that I now had possession of the stick). We put it into the box, and the power came on. Apparently the fuse had blown, and one needs to put the stick into the power box to replace the fuse or something.

I hate that I often feel like I can't be trusted with things. Like, the electricity stick for my box, so that I can have electricity after I blow a fuse. So much information has been parsed out to me sparingly and infrequently, as if knowing everything at once would either be too much for my feeble brain, or give me too much freedom to live like a normal adult.

Whatever the case, I had no electricity for 24 hours. And I'm cranky. And I've been stood up for dinner this evening. And I also have no internet right now because my modem is broken (I spent another hour on the phone with the Internet people, trying to get them to come to my house and fix it, to no avail) (and there's no information on the internet to tell me what to do to fix it).

What a waste of a weekend. Oh well--I still have 45 left or something. And I'm hanging out with my favorite students tomorrow, so it'll end on a middle note.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Giving bits of fuck.

I'm fairly certain I had never eaten a fresh cherry until yesterday. I just don't like the artificial cherry flavor, and made the logical, though incorrect, assumption that it was somehow reminiscent of the actual flavor of a cherry.

It isn't, I learned, after buying three huge handfuls of cherries at the market yesterday (for about $1). They're quite outstanding.

I had my first Chinese lesson this evening. For the last two months, I've done everything I could to avoid studying Chinese. With the impending visits of my parents and Cyndi (and everyone else pleasedeargod come visit me) I really should be able to navigate this incomparably confusing country. Perhaps if I'm paying for it ($7/hour), I'll be motivated to give a bit of a fuck about it?

Monday, June 16, 2008

Stage 1.

Is there anything wrong with maintaining my status as a Stage 1 Culture Shock "sufferer?" If there is, don't tell me.

There is just so much to see in this country--nay, this continent. I don't want to grow apathetic towards it like many of my co-workers have. I didn't move here to begin a new life, per se--I moved her to explore and see things I'll never see again and do things I'll never do again. The "new life" part will just be an additional perk, I suppose.

That said, the weekend was delightful. I got a late start on Saturday, and had some subway and hostel issues, but made it to the Temple of the Earth, Joy City Mall, the temple district (though the temples themselves close quite early), Tienanmen Square, and Japanese dinner.

I met a brilliant Israeli guy at my hostel, and we were travel buddies for Sunday, visiting the Temple of Heaven, the Drum Tower, and the Bell Tower together. Travel buddies make so much sense, as long as they aren't terrible people. Those fleeting friendships are like one-night-stands, only satisfying and not repulsive. The best things about ourselves can be unpacked in the time one spends with the average travel buddy. By the time the shadow of neuroses can be seen, and skeletons start to open the closet door, the two of you are parting ways. How ideal.

Photos should be up. Goodnight.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Remind me:

Why did I leave a city in which I could attend this on a normal Wednesday evening?

Homesickness has started to get more comfortable with me, like a new friend with whom you might only share a drink at first, then a full meal, then expanding to whole weekends spent laying on a couch watching movies in pajamas. I don't miss any one thing in particular (though Berlin has surely been on my mind regularly, as much of my running music is derived from Greg Haus's sets). Just...the life I left behind.

Making friends here has been a moderate challenge; I have honestly, truly gone out of my way to be all sorts of friendly and "hey let's go do this" and all of those things, but often it just doesn't work out. I'm not sure why, and it's certainly not encouraging me to change my curmudgeonly ways.

On the good side of things, I think this month's classes will be a delight. My students are mostly sharp, polite, and in heart with me. The key, it seems, to being a successful foreign teacher is to force your students to fall in love with you. I walk through the halls with ever-changing posses of male students (the females are generally far too shy to escort me anywhere), often eating lunch on their dole (awkward! I make twice as much as your parents!). The Chinese teachers tell me how much my classes adore me, with one noting, "you're the most popular teacher at Compass!" Even the evening class I had last month--the silent, moody group of students who made my internal organs cry--misses me desperately, and "really really really liked" me, according to their Chinese teacher.

Let's face it: my presence at school is little more than a novelty. I and my fellow foreign teachers were hired to be caged birds. We sing our odd melodies, we look pretty and Otherly (and, with one exception, white). We offer these students a taste of what many will never accomplish no matter how hard they study: the chance to become intimate with an English speaker. And that's kind of sick, no?

No, no. It's only sick to me, to us--people who are used to diversity, people who interact with funny-looking and funny-sounding people on a daily basis, people who operate under the pretense of individuality, of uniqueness, of difference-as-the-status-quo. I admire my students for yearning for change, for wanting to experience a life outside of the government-manufactured Chinese ideals, for knowing that they need some other, Other experience to fulfill them. I admire that because I can see that within myself too.

* * * * * *

I don't have to move! How joyous! I am traveling to Beijing this weekend (a day of religious sites on Saturday, followed by perhaps a trip to see The Chairman on Sunday?), and will probably stop by Ikea to collect a few random things (a clock for my bathroom, new curtains for my bedroom, some sheets). I'm really looking forward to visiting the city by myself myself--the other two times were graciously narrated my native and native-ish people. To be able to think, do, plan on my own--what a magnificent treat.

I think I will begin Chinese lessons the week after next. For only 55RMB, I can have a one-hour session with a tutor from a company who will come to my work and teach me. I've delayed learning Chinese for far too long; I should be able to tell the bus driver where I will depart the bus; I should be able to tell the lunch vendor, "please make it more spicy, and use less bing and don't charge me 1RMB extra just because I'm stupid and white."

I think that, if I start actually undertaking some of my plans here, I will maintain the happiness I have had here so far, and keep the home-yearning at bay.

Also, I don't wear deodorant anymore. How exciting! I'm totally "going native."

And on that note...

Monday, June 9, 2008

The Problem With Blogs:

Generally, when I have nice, happy thing to write about, I'm not interested in preserving them here. Thus, my weekend, which was nice and happy, won't be written about extensively. I went to a party on Friday, where I met some great foreigners and enjoyed myself immensely. Saturday, I went to KTV with some students, and actually participated in karaoke for the first time in my natural life. I'm convinced, however, that Chinese karaoke is programmed for higher voices, so I was less than wonderful. We had lunch and played in a multi-story electronics mall afterwards. Sunday I ran a few errands, ran a few Km, and rested.

Another term begins tomorrow--we'll see how this one goes. The good news is, I have evenings off now. The bad news is, all foreign teachers are hereby responsible for maintaining an 85% attendance rate in our classrooms. What?

Articles you should read:

Friday, June 6, 2008

And then.

And then one of my evening students gave me a gift: a travel set of stainless steel chopsticks. And I knew all would be well in the world.

I've just returned from a fantastic, 150Y all-you-care-to-order Japanese feast, and must head to bed to begin the last day of a rubbish school term. Otherwise, we might be able to chat more. Sorry.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008


I think I can consider yesterday my first truly decent teaching day, from start to finish. True, most of my students "failed" their written tests with their Chinese teacher (the school has some money-back guarantee wherein, if you fail a class, you get to take it again for free, so many students repeat levels 2, 3, 4 times), but I feel like we had a productive, fun learning day in each of my four classes.

Yes, black tea strawberry yogurt is as delicious as it sounds.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

All is well.

I didn't move, after all--the apartment was low-ceilinged, carpeted, old-applianced, and in a weird part of town. So, I was assertive and said, "I think I'll wait for the apartment I was told I could move into in the first place."

(Now, of course, I'm contemplating staying here, because although Terna's apartment does have a fully functional kitchen, it too is small and in an enormous, funky old building. It's kitschy in ways I appreciate, and is in a good location, but I'm starting to think I've become comfortable here in this apartment. It's large, clean, and mine. I'm devising some techniques for making a kitchen-ish on the back porch.)

I then stuck to my original plan--to travel to Beijing with my teacher friend Vincent. I was running late for the train, and we missed it, but then decided to take a private car, which was only 20 yuan ($3) more for each of us. (Yes--to have someone drive us in a nice car the two-hour, white-knuckle, driving-on-highway-shoulders trip to Beijing, it cost us 60 each--about what, 9 or 10 dollars?) We went out for awhile--I think it was more my idea than his, but he complied. After staying in a way-too-expensive but two-bedroomed hotel room, we departed for the Great Wall.

I wish I had a stretch of time that would allow me to trek across the entirety of the Great Wall, because really, it's quite cool. Being in the mountain-ish-es, climbing up stairs that have been there (although replaced several times) for centuries, enjoying the fresh air and physical exertion and rewarding views--I really felt happy to be there. (Photos are up, but few in number, owing to my dead camera battery.)

I miss my sewing machine.

Thursday, May 29, 2008


So apparently I am perhaps moving on Saturday to another apartment? I am so confused. I got a text from my boss: "Brian, are you free on Friday to look at an apartment?" Um, no, I am not, because I teach from 11-8 remember?, and then I am going to Beijing because I HAVE PLANS FOR THINGS TO HAPPEN IN 48 HOURS. And then I talked to the Chinese under-boss person, and she said, "yes, if you like the apartment you have to move on Saturday morning." WHAT. Please, people.

The original plan was/is for me to move into a teacher's perfectly nice apartment that is available at the end of June. I don't know why things must change now.

I know, I know: "living abroad should ease my rigidity" and all that. Still, I think it's reasonable to expect plans that have been known for awhile (I am now remembering the Chinese under-boss mentioning something about "when I move" earlier this week, but I thought she meant "to Terna's apartment in a month") to be shared with the person they affect the most.

Also, this reminds me of the day I had to immediately switch desks with my boss one afternoon at my previous job, which was really stressful and worry-inducing (although technically this should ease my mind? I don't know.)

Indian food tonight!

I also just had a dirty, dusty run, as it's quite windy today, and the construction-caused debris gets kicked up and about. So I am visibly soiled.


I was talking to one of my co-workers today: a teacher who works part-time, so we don't have many opportunities to communicate. Two years ago, he just decided to up and move from England to China. To "check things out." Um...what? How can people do that? I don't understand. Now, TWO YEARS LATER, he takes Chinese classes all day, and teaches 5 hours a week at my school. I'm no stranger to Lady Wanderlust, sure--I did move to China after all--but really. To move to a country like China--CHINA, PEOPLE--without a job or language knowledge, just to "check it out?" My OCD sense was tingling as he casually told me these things. "Many people here are running away from something, but I just decided I wanted to check it out over here."

I am thinking about being afraid of missing food, but I'm so far unable to force myself to remember how delicious a turkey sandwich from Potbelly tastes, or a chocolate cupcake from Dinkel's, or the Taxco entree at Las Mananitas, or a spinach salad with olive oil and spinach and cherry tomatoes from my kitchen.

Which is good! I don't want to remember these things!

I want to savor the weird bun filled with sweet red bean paste I have for breakfast most mornings, or the greasy pork and leek dumplings from a street vendor (15 for 2 yuan), or the sauteed spicy tofu and fluffy mushrooms from this place near my house, or the "3+2" espresso sandwich crackers I guiltily buy from time to time, or the ji ro chow bing I eat for lunch every day.

Goodnight. The weekend tiptoes to the edge of the horizon, like the sun allegedly does every morning (not that I could see it through the pollution or anything).

(Literally, in my afternoon class, I look out the windows and see a wall of dark clouds approaching some tall buildings about 2km away, and think it's going to rain. It never rains, though; it's just pollution, only 3-4% of which comes from automobiles in China.)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


This is becoming some sort of "teaching blog," and I do apologize for that. Allow me to expel some thoughts on that, and then I will attempt to squeeze out something less boring.

How can some classes be so amazing and wonderful and smart and full of mutual admiration, and other classes make me feel like a horrible person because they're so fucking stupid? I don't get it. I teach two sections of the same level, and in one I could barely hold their sweaty, fidgety hands as we crossed Learning About Newspaper Sections St. It took almost 45 minutes to make them understand Editorials and Obituaries and other simple-ish concepts. Then, in another class, we finished reviewing these things so quickly that I was able to have them discuss exciting questions like, "Should the government always tell its citizens the truth?" and "Is news necessary?" and "Should we have access to the news in other countries?" It's so frustrating.

What else.

The weather here is so queer. It's been in the 90s for the last week or so, and today it was breezy and cool (70s-80s). the wind caused some sandstorms in Beijing, I hear, but otherwise it was pleasant here.

I've been running again, to compensate for the oil-and-rice-based diet I enjoy here.

I've been having odd "what do I do if I am in [insert building name, bus number, my apartment, my school] and an earthquake happens?" mental moments. But then I realize, people live in the Bay Area and experience earthquakes all the time.

Learning Chinese is not coming along well. Erin always says, semi-mockingly, "you always just do whatever it is you tell yourself to do!" And it's true--quitting smoking, running, moving to China, writing--all of these things are obstacles that daunt many and yet silly 'ol me can dangle a carrot in front of his own nose and get it done. Then, there's learning Chinese. I can think of at least 87 things more exciting to do with my time than learn Chinese. This will change, and honestly, I am recognizing more characters and learning more phrases, but not in any sort of rigid, "this is study time" sort of way. I'll eventually grow bored enough to pursue these language skills I so desperately need (after all, for how long can I eat the 15 different dishes I know how to ask for here?).

I need to figure out how to acquire a new water tank for my water cooler.


Sunday, May 25, 2008

This is what I have to deal with.

Learning to Speak Olympics

A relaxing weekend was had, and is still going on. Photos and descriptions will be posted later.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Missing the Future

And suddenly, while listening to The Black Kids and reading about someone's father's funeral, I have this weird daydream about Ravinia, which causes me to miss the summer that I won't have in Chicago this year. Weird.

The weekend! Shopping, park-ing, Indiana Jones, and running and eating and playing are all on the list.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Seriously, my days are too long. How do real teachers make it through 8-12 hour days, only to travel home and grade papers and plan lessons?

This evening's class was much improved. They were still not very chatty, but I don't feel like it was my fault. In fact, I feel like I did a lovely job of engaging them, and even if they hated it (I don't think they did; they looked like they were enjoying themselves), I did what I could.

Of course, only HALF OF THE CLASS SHOWED UP, so. Yes, half. This will be a problem. I can smell it.

In other news, Scarlett Johansson is not delicious, but No Age and The Tallest Man on Earth are.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Yes, of course.

Everything is fine, as predicted. The guest student loved the class, apparently/allegedly, and is only registering for my part of the class (foregoing the 5 hours a week with a Chinese teacher that everyone else takes). I had great classes today; sometimes I think, "wow--I've successfully swindled these people into loving me no matter what I do!" And that's a slimy, good, slimy feeling.

Is worrying less on my laundry list of goals for China? No, actually it isn't. Worrying is productive. Worrying catalyzes personal change. Worrying makes us scrutinize our behaviors, and helps us make better decisions in the future. I don't care what what Jesus would do (Luke 12:22-26): I'm all about worrying. In this world, nothing and no one is worth trusting, including yourself and your own instincts.

Plus, I think worrying keeps my metabolism up, meaning the sesame-and-red-bean-paste pastries I shovel into my stomach are incinerated like so many tons of garbage in this lovely, odd country.

(By the way, you haven't lived until you've had a sesame-and-red-bean-paste pastry. It's...well, let's just say, it made me question my undying loyalty to the Krispy Kreme donut (which (in another parenthetical aside) exists in Hong Kong (!)).)

Monday, May 19, 2008

Where's my seatbelt?

On second thought, please don't read this.

My Mondaymobile went from zero to shitty in record time. In first gear, a man sort-of hit his girlfriend in my morning class, which was oh-so lovely to deal with. Second gear was the announcement that the teachers will begin operating on an incentive/punishment program (which I am against in theory anyways--merit pay for teachers over-stretches the boundaries of a capitalist approach to the "business" of education). Third gear, you ask? Third gear was a terrible lesson with a usually terrible class (silent, tired, disinterested) which was interrupted by a prospective "customer" who surveyed the rest of class. It was just...yes, a really awful hour and ten that I probably fucked up, and now that would-have-been student will tell my boss' boss that I am the worst teacher ever and I will have to flee the country. I mean, the class literally ended with me asking, "what can I do to make this a better class?" And them telling me. Which would have been great/fine on any other day, but now this woman who came to one class has the impression that I am a terrible teacher, and she will pass it on to the "sales staff," and like a wildfire all the Chinese staff and teachers will be whispering even more than I'm sure they already do about how I am an awful teacher and I DON'T UNDERSTAND CHINESE SO THEY PROBABLY DO IT RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME ANYWAYS my god.

Thank goodness for my drug dealer, Mother Nature: without residual running-related endorphins I would have assumed the fetal position sometime around noon.

(And then I wonder if I am projecting all my anxiety about living in China on my teaching--I'm constantly worried about being fired, about being a bad teacher, about my visa. My job does not allow me to feel like sending roots into the dusty Tianjin soil is worthwhile since everything is so tenuous. But is it that, or is it some unspoken hope that I will be fired, so that I have a reason to run away from here? I cannot tell, but I think it's mostly the whole I'm-a-shitty-teacher-without-a-good-visa thing.)

Sunday, May 18, 2008

From the Jin to the Jing, and back again.

I had a great weekend in Beijing, but am far too tired to describe it in great detail now. I just enjoy metropolitan patterns of consumption, is all. So. Yes. Goodnight. There are photographs and films up, if all is uploaded properly.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

On culture shock.

One of my lessons I'm preparing for tomorrow addresses the phenomenon known commonly as "culture shock." My materials go so far as to suggest that it is a scientific condition, with near-identical symptoms. This is an apropos lesson, since all of my students wish to live abroad soon, and the instructor is at some stage in the process as well.

I've decided that I'm still lingering awkwardly in the "honeymoon phase" (a term I have used repeatedly without knowledge of its "scientific" origins). I'm not sure what has retarded my progress. Perhaps the Internet and the ease of connection to my past has something to do with it?

A summary:

Everything is exciting and new. You might think that the new culture is ideal, and you might think that it is much better than your own. If you are sometimes frustrated or have problems, you quickly recover. Everything is quite positive, the people in the new culture are very nice. This stage can last for months, or maybe only a couple of days. It is called the tourist stage because tourists generally do not stay in a different place long enough to have culture shock.

I am still waiting for the "shock" phase, which is next. Perhaps in June? Perhaps tomorrow? Perhaps never?

My review went somewhat well. My supervisor suggested I make a few changes (like writing on the dry erase wall and THEN talking, instead of doing both at once (which I am wont to do)), but otherwise seemed pleased. So. Good-ish!

Beijing and the many modern art galleries this weekend. And a package from home, delivered via my parents' flight attendant friend!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Yes I am ok x 100.

No earthquake troubles here; I don't think anyone even felt it in Tianjin. A former student is at her uni right now, which is near the epicenter of the quake, but she's fine too.

The only thing NOT fine is the constant noise in this building in which I live. If it's not accordion or Chinese soap operas (there's a distinctive chime that plays between scenes) or my neighbor partying, it's being awoken at 7:30AM to the sound of hammers--many hammers--rat a tat tatting on walls somewhere. Don't they realize they could just use scissors on these paper-thin partitions?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Monday Monday.

And, all the anxieties of my first few teaching days have arisen from the ashes. New students, new lessons, and a supervision on Wednesday (it's a standard, all-teachers-are-watched-once-every-two-months thing). So.

I was propositioned via text and telephone to be someone's husband-ish today. So that always feels awkward.

Things are looking up otherwise! A trip to Beijing this weekend (and a package from my parents will be waiting there for me!), perhaps one again next weekend, a gallery opening here in my actual town with an artist I actually know!, and assorted other grand plans.

And since I've vowed to never again purchase chocolate-filled Oreos (or any other cookie-resembling confection), Teh Suprfatt which I have become will soon transform into a handsomely-bodied devil.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Teh Visa.

So, I'm a little worried about all of that right now. I'm legally allowed to be here through August 7 right now, which as we all should know is one day before the Olympic games. The plan created by my school is to renew my F visa and send me to HK for a work visa after the games (which seems realistic, since all flights into and around China are vastly overpriced right now, and will only get worse through August).

This NYT article suggests that this will be a challenge, though, if not an impossibility.

I'm a worrier, as we all know, but I think this is certainly something my school should be worrying about with some urgency, like, now. Either they need to tell me, "you're going to need to leave China the day before the Olympics and return afterwards (or never?)" or "we're going to work really hard to keep you here and should know what will happen in the next month (one month is certainly enough time, I think)," or "you'll need to live here illegally for a few weeks, which means you cannot do anything but go between your house and school since security will be so high."

I will be really angry if I cannot be in Beijing for even one day of the Olympics. That was, after all, one motivating factor for me choosing this school and city and country. I will also be really angry if they give me little forewarning about needing to leave China. The plan in my head is currently to find a 6-month contract position in South Korea if this happens.

I look forward to the day in which I have a work visa in my hands, and I can worry about other things.

* * * * *

I went on a food-scavenging adventure last night, purchasing an egg-and-mush crepe thing with peppers and a crunchy pig-ear looking thing, some delicious spicy noodle soup, and (accidentally two) sweet roasted chicken on the bone with mushrooms and rice. Today, I bought a drink that anyone who's anyone is drinking in China right now called Pocari Sweat. It's marketed as a Gatorade-electrolyte-something-or-other.

* * * * *

And it's Mother's Day, which makes me sad. Terna's mother is visiting her right now, and I met her on Friday and that also made me sad. But. It's only one Mother's Day that will be missed, and shouldn't every day be Mother's Day, after all? (Also, my father's birthday is this week, which is even more terrible to miss.)

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Water Park.

I generally hate zoos. My already-hemorrhaging heart bleeds with greater fervor when I see wild-belonging animals caged in small spaces aesthetically designed to to reflect a zoo patron's idea of a "natural habitat." And sure, veterinarians do all they can to maintain health and happiness among the animals, but still--it just seems wrong.

Imagine how I reacted to a Chinese zoo. If their children are allowed to work 60-hour weeks in Gap factories, you can guess how well they treat animals. Jenny and I went to the Water Park today, where they have a medium-sized zoo filled with bears, monkeys, peafowl (peacocks), giraffes, and panda (singular).

While the rest of the park seemed nice (photos are up), the zoo really rubbed me the wrong way. Most people have enough decorum to not scream at the animals, or feed them horrible snacks (Jenny's menu included these crunchy red bean-paste-filled crackery things that she bought specifically for the purpose of feeding the animals). Not in China! The animals all seemed pretty out of it--and I would be too if I were in prison. Ack.

Otherwise, the day was pleasant. I think I'm finally starting to get a hang of this whole "speaking Chinese" thing. I went for a run afterwards, because I am The Fat. Happy Mother's Day.

An aside.

And then some middle-aged people (man and woman) start banging on my door for about 5 minutes, until I come to the door. They talk at me in Chinese for a bit, then ask for my telephone number. I give it to them, and then think, "um...what the fuck?" I start asking them who they are, etc., and they just want my name. Then they invite my neighbor to come over (all this is happening in my house, which I did not invite anyone into exactly, which is making me very uncomfortable) and sort-of translate, and they pretend to be the police? But I make the universal "show me your badge" hand sign, they laugh, and then there's some more talk between my neighbor and them, and they all leave. My neighbor tells me that he'll tell me what they were saying later. So, jesus christ this place is fucked up.

UPDATE: My neighbor told me they were from an Olympic committee, checking the "safety" of apartments or something. I'd heard about these checks before--entire buildings being turned over by military squads (squads?) in an attempt to guarantee "safety" for the Olympic games. Also, since I am white, I am clearly an obvious target for such a search since it's us silly foreigners who think for a moment that certain regions of certain countries might perhaps be granted some semblance of autonomy but ANYWAYS.

Oh, happy coincidence.

I love being ahead of the game:

A Funhouse Floating in a Korean Spa

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Less Briefly.

A list of Seoul-related adventures:

1. Seeing Cyndi. I think (not to start this on a low note) it was perhaps too early for me to see someone from my American life? In the film Away From Her/story "The Bear Came Over the Mountain" by Alice Munro, Grant cannot visit his Alzheimer's-addled wife Fiona in the nursing home for 30 days, to "let her adjust to her new surroundings." I saw Cyndi after a mere 27 days here, and perhaps it was too soon? I became very almost-weepy on the boat trip to China, but then arrived here and felt like I was somehow "at home" again.

2. Seoul. Seoul is a perfect city. It is a great blend of Korean culture and Western consumption. I didn't realize how much I missed things like coffee until there was a Dunkin' Donuts on every corner. I didn't realize how much I missed donuts until I ate about 2 dozen Krispy Kremes during my time there. Korean ony has 24 characters, and, while an ugly-sounding language, seems easy to learn (not that anyone does). There are bountiful numbers of foreigners (even gay ones!). It is beautifully carved into green mountains. Korean teachers make more than double what I currently make. The porcelain ballerina of Seoul has been dancing in the jewelry box of my head since I stepped foot onto its bustling streets, and I can't quite get it to stop.

3. Lantern Festival. Since next Monday is Buddha's birthday, the largest Buddhist temple in Seoul was having a lantern festival that C and I just happened to stumble upon. It was truly an amazing sight--a ceiling of small lanterns, elaborate parade floats made of wire, paper, and lightbulbs, and many practitioners performing various acts of celebration. It was so unbelievably beautiful; the photos do not, unfortunately, effectively convey how great this event was.

4. Jjimjilbang. Because of the holiday weekend (Children's Day (?)), all guest houses were booked for Saturday evening. So, Cyndi suggested we stay at a jjimjilbang, which is a bath house/dormitory that would only cost 8500 won ($8). We tentatively committed to this idea, locking our belongings in a locker in a subway station near the one we were planning on maybe staying at.

After a long, perfect day of running around Seoul, we were dining on sauteed meats and kim chee and other delicious things when I looked at my watch. It was 12:15, and the subwas closed at 12:30, meaning our locker full of our clothes and toiletries would be behind fences now. We went to the station anyways, just in case, but to no avail: our locker (#13, natch) taunted us from inside the station.

So, we went and became very drunk on beer and soju and stumbled to the jjimjilbang at around 4:00AM, at which point we were handed sleeping clothes and locker keys. There were obvs. separate bathing areas for men and women, but we regrouped to sleep on the wooden floor and wooden "pillows" of the dormitory floor. I am still nursing bruises from this experience; whole regions of my body were numb when I would periodically wake up. But! It was only $8. So.

5. Sights. We viewed two palaces, Seoul Tower (but did not ascend), the Buddhist temple, and many many many streets of shopping. It would have been great if it weren't so expensive: in Zara, the Korean prices were just stickered on over the price in Euros, and it was, in most cases, three times as expensive. So. I did not buy much--a pair of pants on super-sale, a hoodie, and a few t-shirts.

6. Food. Korean food is fantastic. There was not a single missed note in the spicy symphonies that entered my mouth. I wish I could live on the stuff.

7. Jinchon. The ship trip was quite hip. It was not "nice," but much "nicer" than I expected: there were two restaurants, a bar, a cafe, some stores, and plenty of ambling space. My bed was reasonably comfortable. I spent most of the trip to Seoul reading and writing, and most of the trip back chatting with two North American teachers who were going on months-long excursions around the Asian continent now that their contracts were over. All in all, I would highly recommend this mode of transportation, and I'm now trying to figure out where else I could go via ferry. It's only around $300 round trip to sail to Kobe, Japan...

(Actually, this trip was super-expensive, so I'm not planning any elaborate excursions for awhile. I'm thinking I'll just do some weekend excursions around China for the next few months, and then save up for my month-long trek from Beijing to New Delhi after my contract is up.)

Overall, I'm glad to be back, but I was even gladder to be in the company of Cyndi and Seoul.

(NB: I hear a lawnmower outside, and it is a very odd, home-think-y sound.)